Hockey

Once again, this tine of year has turned into a philosophical study of how the Hawks got here, where they’re going, and whether or not any of it is correct or possible. It’s not what you’d ideally be discussing at this time of year, but when your front office’s only ploy to fix things is turning the team off and then on again, this is where you end up.

The Hawks claim that they’ve been forced into this position for a third straight year not because they made any mistakes, because no one makes mistakes over there don’t you know, but because this is just the price you pay for the success they had. We’re sure the Penguins or Bruins would like a word, but we have the Lightning to deal with at the moment. And keep in mind, the Lightning have done with with two different GMs but a constant vision and direction. How nice that must be.

The Bolts don’t have the long track record that the Hawks do in the past, but they were at the same point in 2015 and separated by barely the width of a sheet of paper. Now a direct comparison isn’t totally fair, as the core of that Lightning team was younger than that of the Hawks. Still, with how Toews and Kane have played the past couple years, and Keith this one, they aren’t seprated by light years either.

The Lightning have the top of the draft picks just like the Hawks do, in Hedman and Stamkos. They also had Jonathan Drouin, #3 overall. But from there, the Lightning have just done so much more with later round picks than the Hawks, or indeed most teams. Brayden Point was found in the third round. So was Anthony Cirelli. Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde weren’t even drafted. And that was eight and six years ago now, but the Hawks added literally no one who’s contributing to this team now between 2008 and 2016. You can’t have that gap. You have to have a middle generation to go with your standards and your young kids. The Hawks missed that, which is why they’re paying the price. There’s nothing between the Keith and Toews generation and the DeBrincat one, aside from maybe Brandon Saad and that came at the cost of Artemi Panarin.

And since the Lightning took Drouin 3rd overall, they’ve never picked above 19th. In that time they’ve added Point, Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph. They also added Brett Howden, who they spun into Ryan McDonagh (your value of that may vary) and J.T. Miller, which was then spun into another first round pick that got them Blake Coleman this past deadline. No matter where it turns, it’s something they can use.

The Lightning have been better at trades as well. They weren’t going to re-sign Ben Bishop, so they got Erik Cernak out of it. Compare that with the Gustafsson or Lehner return. When Drouin wasn’t working, they turned that into Sergachev. They realized that Kevin Shattenkirk would work in a limited role. We can go on here.

Compare that with the Hawks who only have Dominik Kubalik in the past three years as a definite win as a trade, and maybe Dylan Strome but it’s hard to say that for sure right now. Their free agents or guys they took a flier on…well, we don’t need to go on about that because you’re probably going to want to eat in the next few days. There are guys out there that could have filled a role that the Lightning identify and the Hawks pass on. That’s how you end up with Nick Seeler.

The Hawks have used the excuse of their late draft positions or cap problems to try and hide their failings. But the Lightning, or the Bruins, or the Penguins, have faced all these obstacles the last five seasons and keep ending up at the top of the standings. It’s not about the obstacles. It’s about how you get around them. And if you’re blaming the obstacles, that tells you everything you need to know about your skills.

It’s quite simply, not good enough.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Red Wings 10-29-3   Hawks 18-18-6

PUCK DROP: 6:30pm

TV: NBCSN

GOTTA LOSE YOUR MIND: Winging It In Motown

As we comment every time these two meet, it used to mean so much. This was one of the NHL’s deadliest rivalries, at least among the fanbases. On the ice…well, it wasn’t a rivalry for much of the last 30 years. The Wings rose above where the Hawks could ever dream of getting in the early 90s, and only at the very end of their reign did the Hawks stare them in the eye. And that was almost 20 years later. And quickly the Wings faded away, and ran off to the Eastern Conference so Mike Ilitch wouldn’t have to stay up so late and risk shitting himself. Much of the heat has gone, and what’s left is basically from memory. The younger section of the fanbase will never know the vitriol and bile this used to have. And maybe that’s a good thing.

If it was still there, this would resemble their tangles in the 80s, when both teams were either terrible or just good enough to be chum for the Oilers. It all goes in cycles, I suppose.

If it does, the Wings are certainly at the bottom of theirs. In truth, Detroit probably needed to do this a few years ago, but kept trying to desperately crawl and cling to the very bottom rung of the playoffs, with signings like Trevor Daley or Frans Nielsen or some others in the past. But it didn’t work, and now this is the full tear-down. They’re still committed to Justin Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen, love letters from Ken Holland, but every other vet is on his way out no later than this summer. Steve Yzerman will hope to flog a couple of them at least for any pick or prospect he can get.

Of course, that means what’s on the ice is truly awful. The Wings trail everyone by at least 13 points in the NHL. They have yet to crack double-digits in regulation wins. They’re last in goals for, and last in goals against. That’s how you bottom out, folks! And they can’t even argue they’re somewhat unlucky to be this bad. They’re second last in Corsi, and second-last in expected goals. They’re last in shooting-percentage, and third-last in save-percentage. What the Wings do well you can put in your pipe and smoke it and not have nearly enough to pass around. This is a truly wretched outfit. And it should be.

Did I mention they’ve lost seven of eight? Or 17 of 20, all in regulation? Try to contain your sorrow, I’m sure you’re just dying inside. Also, though +/- is a bullshit stat, it’s hard not to gawk at Andreas Anathasiou’s -35 in half a season and wonder just how the gods could allow such a calamity.

All of this means the Hawks can’t fuck this one up. The Wings have no defense and they have an attack that even the Hawks should be able to repel. Even if the Hawks aren’t all there mentally, even they could get a win in second gear here. This is the free spot on the Bingo card. If you don’t let Dylan Larkin go off the leash, this team can’t score. The corpses of Valtteri Filppula and Nielsen are still around. Luke Glendening is like 49 years old now. They’re even beat up, as Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou are both hurt and are two of the few who don’t come with mittens pinned to their jackets.

For the Hawks, Robin Lehner and Zack Smith missed practice yesterday, as that nasty fall Lehner took against Vancouver came home to roost. So Corey Crawford finds his way back into the lineup. Everything else wikk remain as it was.

The Hawks have a nice row of home games here, though they’ve been mediocre at home all season. The Wings blow more than anyone has blown in a long while, they just outplayed the Flames, the Predators are seriously trying to get Peter Laviolette to the unemployment office, and the Ducks aren’t any good either. It’s all set up, but first you have to hit the hanging curveball. Don’t foul it off your foot.

Hockey

It was almost a decade now that Steve Yzerman left the Wings front office. While it seemed a bit off, and there was a section of Red Wings fans that thought it was on the level of a crime that Yzerman wasn’t allowed to replace Ken Holland then, it didn’t rise to the level of controversy as the Wings were still on top and Holland not yet discovered to be one of the luckier morons around. Since Yzerman left of course, the Wings haven’t seen anything past the second round in 10 seasons, haven’t won a playoff round in six, and will have missed the playoffs the last four when this one’s over. It may be far too late to have saved that era of Detroit hockey, but according to Wings fans everyone is where they should be now.

The first thing Yzerman will have to do is identify or find pieces that the team will be built upon. Is that Dylan Larkin? Jury is still very much out on that, though he is very good. Is he a franchise turner? When Yzerman landed in Tampa, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman were already there. You can’t get much better than that. Dylan Larkin is now Steven Stamkos. There isn’t anyone here to be a homeless man’s Hedman yet.

However, to discredit what Yzerman built down there would be completely unfair. Yzerman’s second draft saw him nab Vladimir Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. The latter two would form two-thirds of the Triplets that were major parts of the Lightning’s continued runs to the conference final and beyond. His third draft netted Andrei Vasilevskiy and Cedric Pacquette. Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph would follow in the next few years, who are the backbone of this Lightning team.

Yzerman also went outside the draft in signing Tyler Johnson and stealing Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher. Anton Stralman ended up being the analytic darling of free agent signings. The Zobrist of hockey, if you will (you won’t). It’s an impressive list of team-building.

There were missteps, of course. The Bolts blue line was always a bit plodding beyond Hedman. Ryan Callahan sucked up a ton of cap space for what became a pretty shitty Brandon Dubinsky impression. Dan Girardi did the same. Ryan McDonagh aged a ton upon arrival. No one bats 1.000.

But Yzerman did earn a rep for moving on pretty quickly when he could. His first team went to the conference final under Guy Boucher and his overrated, boring-ass ways that were just riding Dwayne Roloson‘s second nuclear streak. Boucher was fired just over a season later and that entire team moved out for what would come next and what you saw here in 2015. Jonathan Drouin at #3 overall in the draft never earned a spot and never stopped bitching about it. He was chucked for Mikhail Sergachev, who has contributed heavily to the Lightning of late. Stevie Y rarely falls in love with something that isn’t worth it.

Maybe it’s better to arrive at the Wings now. In 2010-2011, he would have had the same problems that Holland refused to see, the aging stars that were no longer up for carrying a team deep into the spring. The cap problems. And the desperation to keep bolstering that up.

That doesn’t mean it’s a total blank slate in Motor City. Yzerman will lose the contracts of Mike Green, Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley after the season. That’s some $16M in space. Only Andreas Anathasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi will require big raises. And splashing cash in the free agent market in the summer shouldn’t be a priority, as this team is a long way from anything.

Still, the major part is finding the foundation. Larkin has done the best he can, but he’s never had an 80-point season. Then again, he hasn’t had much talent around him either. Is Filip Hronek the new anchor on the blue line? Filip Zadina (Larry Horse say too Filip-y) hasn’t flashed yet to signal why he was taken 6th overall.

What Yzerman buys everyone is a ton of time. Wings fans aren’t going to get seriously impatient with him for seasons, which is good because he’s going to need it. His time in Tampa buys a lot of additional trust. A possible #1 pick overall will as well, though there’s no generational player in this draft as there have been in previous.

The only complaint is that Yzerman’s Lightning only won one Prince Of Wales trophy. Of course, if Duncan Keith hadn’t gone supernova in ’15 and the Penguins not around in ’16, that might be different. Three of four years they lost to the eventual champions in the third round or later, and all of them to the definitive teams of the era.

Wings fans won’t accept that when it’s all said and done. But it’s a long road to even there for them.

Everything Else

It almost seems to perfect. You wonder if Ken Holland even sees it coming. He has to, right? Maybe it was always the plan (not a process). But Steve Yzerman resigned as GM of the Lightning, right before the Wings rebuild is supposed to pivot. They’ll likely have yet another top-five pick to play with. And the patience with Holland seems to have run out as the Wings embark on a third-straight playoff-less season. It’s clear change needs to be made, and when a former team legend who just happened to build one of the best teams of the era is waiting in the suburbs twiddling his thumbs, you don’t have to be John Nash to put it all together.

If that’s how it goes down, then this will be the last Hawks-Wings game with Ken Holland overlooking from a suite. And the next one without him will be the first in over 22 years. That’s a hell of a run, but it’s a lot spottier than you might think.

First off, Holland took over in between the Wings first two Cup wins from Jimmy Devellano. It’s not like there was a lot of building to be done back then. And the Wings were known for splashing all of Mike Illitch’s cash, so it wasn’t like he had to unearth much. Much like Alabama recruiting, he just had to throw open the door, leave a trail of cash, and the top available players would come sprinting. Holland had added Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios to the 2002 version that won a third Cup, but again, it’s not like these were hidden gems that only Holland could find (fucking Anders Eriksson).

Where Holland got most of his esteem was in the Wings’ European scouting, which led to him drafting Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen in the head-to-the-shitter portion of the draft. And clearly, that’s not something you just sneeze at. It also appears to have been just a huge slice of luck, which any draft requires. Because since then, the core of the Wings rotted out while there was nothing on the edges to take its place.

Since 2004 when Holland took Johan Franzen, and they were both unfortunate to have his career cut short by concussions, the  NHL-ers that Holland has managed to find are Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Calle Jarnkrok, Petr Mrazek, Thomas Jurco, Andreas Anathasiou, Anthony Mantha, Matthias Janmark, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin. How many true difference-makers are there? Larkin for sure, maybe Howard when he was younger? You’d really have to squint. Anathasiou has a chance, and maybe, maybe, if you really wheel-pose it out Nyquist. Sure, only recently has Holland had top-10 picks, but if he were the genius everyone would have you believe he’d find a late-round gem again, right?

Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Lidstrom got old, and even with all that time Holland had no one in place to take over. Combine that with some utterly woeful free agent signings. There was the bewildering fascination with Todd Bertuzzi. What is Frans Nielsen doing here? Justin Abdelkader was extended into the Earth’s heat-death. What did he think Trevor Daley was going to do? Steve Ott even made an appearance.

That doesn’t make Holland one of the league’s worst GMs, or anything close. Most GMs who achieve the success he can claim in the NHL were either parachuted right into it, got lucky a couple times, or most likely both (say Stan, what are you doing here?). It’s just been years since the Wings were relevant, and Holland had a ton of time to find the next generation and couldn’t.

Yzerman will be parachuted in, though. He’ll have Larkin, Anathasiou, Zadina, Rasmussen, and a few other prospects below the surface. He’ll have the NHL probably jonesing at the chance to rig Jack Hughes to stay home in Michigan. Perhaps Holland will leave them with parting gifts he’ll never get to enjoy and go without the credit he would deserve. Which would probably cancel out all the credit he got for basically pulling a Homer.

 

Game #61 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Kyle has been the editor over at WingingItInMotown.com as long as we’ve been doing this, which means he hasn’t gotten any more of a life than we have. And we thank him for that. Follow him on Twitter @KyleWIIM. Anyway, this is the Q&A we did with him like, last week when the Wings were here. 

Well, the Red Wings seem to get how this whole tank/rebuild thing is supposed to go, or at least the Eastern Conference has made it so. How do you feel about where the Wings are?
The Red Wings are two, maybe three players away from being back in the thick of things, I think. They’ve got a decent crop of young talent in the juniors, and a few youngsters starting to make names for themselves in the NHL.
If they can lock up a top-three pick this year, they’ll be in a good spot.. Problem is, they need to work on the books. Too much cap space spent on old players. That hogties them to try and make a splash in the free agent market if there’s a big name out there.
Dylan Larkin‘s switch to center last year was a little itchy. Seems to be going better this time. What’s the difference?
He’s just a special player, and the team has embraced his ability to be the straw that stirs the drink. Putting him with Gustav Nyquist and Tyler Bertuzzi has been a magnificent decision.
Is Yzerman slotting in at GM over the summer fait accompli?
I think so, but it could realistically happen. I comes down to Ken Holland. What’s he going to do? Obviously the organization is happy keeping everyone where they’re at.. So it really comes down to him.
Andreas Athanasiou already has a career high in points and will soon in goals. What’s been the difference for him this year, and does the team still hate him?
Team doesn’t hate him, I think they’ve just been very critical. Again, he’s been put with the right kind of players, and being put in the right situations. For a long time, I think the team believed his best skill was speed, and while it is definitely one of his best abilities, his playmaking ability has really shined this season.
What will the Wings be doing before the deadline?
If I’m a betting man, I’m guessing they stand pat. They’ve got a ton of NTCs to deal with, and it’s just been so gosh damn quiet that I find it difficult to see something happening. Then again, maybe the quietness should hint that something is in the works.
They should really be pushing to sell players like Jimmy Howard, Luke Glendening, and even Gustav Nyquist.

 

Game #61 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Kyle has been the editor over at WingingItInMotown.com as long as we’ve been doing this, which means he hasn’t gotten any more of a life than we have. And we thank him for that. Follow him on Twitter @KyleWIIM.

Well, the Red Wings seem to get how this whole tank/rebuild thing is supposed to go, or at least the Eastern Conference has made it so. How do you feel about where the Wings are?
The Red Wings are two, maybe three players away from being back in the thick of things, I think. They’ve got a decent crop of young talent in the juniors, and a few youngsters starting to make names for themselves in the NHL.
If they can lock up a top-three pick this year, they’ll be in a good spot.. Problem is, they need to work on the books. Too much cap space spent on old players. That hogties them to try and make a splash in the free agent market if there’s a big name out there.
Dylan Larkin’s switch to center last year was a little itchy. Seems to be going better this time. What’s the difference?
He’s just a special player, and the team has embraced his ability to be the straw that stirs the drink. Putting him with Gustav Nyquist and Tyler Bertuzzi has been a magnificent decision.
Is Yzerman slotting in at GM over the summer fait accompli?
I think so, but it could realistically happen. I comes down to Ken Holland. What’s he going to do? Obviously the organization is happy keeping everyone where they’re at.. So it really comes down to him.
Andreas Athanasiou already has a career high in points and will soon in goals. What’s been the difference for him this year, and does the team still hate him?
Team doesn’t hate him, I think they’ve just been very critical. Again, he’s been put with the right kind of players, and being put in the right situations. For a long time, I think the team believed his best skill was speed, and while it is definitely one of his best abilities, his playmaking ability has really shined this season.
What will the Wings be doing before the deadline?
If I’m a betting man, I’m guessing they stand pat. They’ve got a ton of NTCs to deal with, and it’s just been so gosh damn quiet that I find it difficult to see something happening. Then again, maybe the quietness should hint that something is in the works.
They should really be pushing to sell players like Jimmy Howard, Luke Glendening, and even Gustav Nyquist.

 

Game #56 Preview Suite

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The obvious answer is that Steve Yzerman stepped down as Lightning GM because he got some assurance from somewhere or someone that Detroit is finally going to euthanize the increasingly hockey-senile Ken Holland and return the conquering hero. That and to be closer to where he actually lives, of course. This will be Caesar through the arch shit. And perhaps with the Wings being so bad and having a good look at the #1 pick and hometown boy Jack Hughes–and certainly the NHL would never rig such a thing for a franchise they’ve been wheel-posing for for decades–maybe Yzerman thinks he’s already got a leg up in bringing the Wings back to “Scum” status.

Still, it’s hard to see why you’d so quickly walk away from the Lightning, given what he’s built and what’s on the horizon.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Lightning is that the “Cap-ocalypse” that was supped to ravage their roster never materialized. The Lightning haven’t really had to lose anyone. Sure, he was able to use the lack of state income tax to his advantage and keep the cap hits for Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov lower than market-value while still providing the same money in their pockets. But hey, you have to press your advantages where you can. And now Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Miller, Johnson, and McDonagh are around for years.

There also isn’t doom on the horizon. Sure, Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point are in need of new contracts after this season, and will be due raises, maybe even hefty ones. But all of Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi come off the books as well, for a cool $11.2M in space. And none of them need to be retained. Only Stralman at a much lower price would appeal. And if the Lightning let all of them go, they have Cal Foote waiting in the AHL to step in with Mikhail Sergachev moving up the lineup.

The following season, Ryan Callahan’s $5.8M hit will disappear, thankfully, and they’ll have even more space to play with as not really anyone is due a raise then. At least no one who has popped up as vital yet.

No one in their corps is even out of their prime, or even that much past their peak yet. Stamkos is 28, and McDonagh is 29, and the latter threatens to not age well, but everyone else is either right in their prime or not even there yet. They’re not going anywhere.

So it’s kind of a mystery how the Detroit build could be a more attractive option than this. Maybe Yzerman felt he’d done all the building and didn’t have much interest in merely maintaining. Maybe it’s just “Momma called.” But the Wings need so many pieces. Maybe he thinks his name is enough to draw prime free agents in the next few years. Except the Wings have exactly zero cap space at the moment. They’ll lose Thomas Vanek’s, Gustav Nyquist’s, and Niklas Kronwall’s contracts, as well as Jimmy Howard’s. But the Wings need at least a #1 center, a #1 d-man, and probably a goalie too, and that’s just for starters.

He’ll certainly have no interference in Detroit, where he’ll be allowed to do whatever he wants. The problem might be he’ll be competing with the force he’s already created for at least the next three years, probably longer, as they’re in the same division. That’ll make for some interesting viewing.

 

Game #8 Preview Suite

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Whenever the Hawks and Bolts get together, we bother our friend Alexis Boucher (@Alexis_b82). When we stop talking about Tetsuya Naito, we get around to hockey. 

 

The Maple Leafs got all the press over the summer (shocking we know), and the Bruins always seem to have the East coast bias thing going. But the Lightning are the defending division champs, both regular season and playoffs, and were an unlucky whisker away from being in the Final themselves. Is there any reason to think they aren’t the favorites again?
I’m understandably biased when it comes to this question, but barring extensive injuries or incredibly bad luck it’s hard not to pick the Bolts as one of the heavy favorites out of the East. Their incredibly talented core group is still around and younger players have another year of experience under their belts. They know how well they’ve done over the last several years but the fact that they’ve fallen short isn’t lost on them. Before the home opener earlier this month Steven Stamkos was asked about the 2017-18 Division championship banner that had been hung in the rafters and if there was any discussion about it among the team. The captain said there wasn’t any talk about it because it wasn’t the one they wanted. This group remains hungry to finally fulfill their promise and hopefully this will be the year they make it happen.
It seems like the Lightning are always unveiling a spiky new youngster who contributes big time. Last year it was Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point. Anyone this year?
Right winger Mathieu Joseph made the Lightning’s roster out of training camp and he’s already been making a name for himself. Drafted in 2015, Joseph had an incredibly strong first pro season with the Syracuse Crunch in 2017-18. He plays with a tremendous amount of speed and tenacity on the ice which fits in well with Tampa’s style. He has had incredibly chemistry early on a line with another promising young player Anthony Cirelli and the veteran Alex Killorn.
Any chance Mikhail Sergachev earns more of a role than just third-pairing this season?
The sky certainly seems to be the limit when it comes to Sergachev’s potential. He’s so good that it’s easy to forget he’s only 20-years-old. He continues to see a decent amount of time on the second power play unit as well. As he continues to learn and grow it’s not out of the question that he breaks into Tampa’s top four.
What’s the story behind Steve Yzerman stepping down? Is he just going to get that much money from the Red Wings? Is this a worry in Tampa?
When the Yzerman news broke so close to the start of training camp it was more surprising than anything. Apparently, he wanted to tell all of the players when they arrived but it was shocking nonetheless. Not a lot of details have come out besides Yzerman’s desire to be closer to his family. His wife and daughters have remained based in Michigan throughout his tenure as GM and that can’t be easy. It would seem he’s destined to rejoin the Red Wings in some capacity down the line but it’s also difficult to see him stepping away from the team that he has built into a perennial contender before they reach their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. There’s a lot of unknowns in this scenario but Yzerman has definitely left them in a position to succeed. Julien BriseBois has been under his tutelage for a quite some time and is more than a worthy successor.

 

Game #8 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

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While all the news of the summer has mostly been focused north of the 49th, because they have nothing else to do in the summer except annoy the rest of us with their offseason bullshit and I mean jesus fucking christ get a second baseball team or something or spend more than three weeks at fucking “cottage” where all you do is drink the same bad beer you always do and complain about what you spend the rest of the year doing before you go back to complaining about it while you do it and yes we actually have mountains and lakes here in the States too can you believe it and you’re not so special so just go back to locking yourself in your basement and drinking your own piss while you make videos that 16-year-old girls love because that’s not creepy at all you fucking dweeb and..

I’m sorry, that got away from me. Let’s start again. Most of the attention this summer has been on the Leafs after signing Tavares, or the continuing descent into hell’s asshole from the Ottawa Senators and their drama(s) with Erik Karlsson, or the simply mystifying, long-standing incompetence and arrogance of the Canadiens. So you’d be forgiven if you forgot how the Atlantic Division actually works.

The class is still located on the west coast of Florida, which isn’t where anything should ever be located but here we are. The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t gone anywhere, though they may have taken a half-step back by not taking a step forward. Then again, that step forward is probably waiting either in camp or in mid-season, and it could be a very large one. Let’s hop to it.

Goalies: As you’ll see with most of the team, it’s basically the same outfit as last year that they’re just going to run again. Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a Vezina-caliber season, at least to the eye of the ever-vigilant hockey press and their Nick Kyrgios-level of effort on thinking, finishing third for that award after piling up a .920 SV% and a 2.62 GAA. He was also .930 at evens. Those numbers would look better if he hadn’t tailed off in the season’s second half, as he went .916-.916-.883-.900 in January-April, which is worrying. And it wasn’t a much larger workload that got him, because he made 50 appearances in the season before while Ben Bishop was fighting with the various gremlins that live in his soft tissue (I think I saw Soft Tissue Gremlins open for…).

So maybe that should have been a clue that the playoffs were not going to be filled with glitter and strobe lights for him. The first two rounds saw him get the soft-landing of the one-man Devils and the one-line Bruins, and he obliged accordingly by seeing the Lightning through in 10 games total. But the series against the Caps, who were running on high-octane at that point, was a different story. He posted a .901 in that series, with serious disasters in Games 1, 2, and 7. Sure, his first foray into the playoffs as a starter, and he is allowed another try or five. But given the way he faded as the season went along, there should be sharper eyes on him at the start of this season as teams already have the scouting reports from last season’s back end.

Backing him up is Louis Domingue. He’s perfectly serviceable as a backup, but the Bolts are not going to be able to turn to him if Vasilevskiy’s belly-up from last year is a feature and not a bug. If that happens, they’ll be looking outside the organization.

Defense: So the temptation is to label this their weakness. And it is right now. Except that it very well might not look like what it looks like now. Because the rumor is that Erik Karlsson will really only go to Tampa or Vegas via trade. And if this defense adds the best d-man alive, it goes from weakness to sharp pointy thing with lasers.

But until that happens, if it happens, we can only deal with what we have on hand. Outside of Vasilevskiy, the biggest reason the Lightning got punted by the Caps in seven games is that Victor Hedman was awful in that series. And when he’s not dominating play, they Lightning don’t have anyone else who can do that. It was also what bit them in 2015, and that’s when Anton Stralman could actually move. Hedman carried a 45% corsi-percentage that series, and his scoring-chance percentage was even worse.

Now, some of that, even a majority, could be explained that he was dragging around the bloated, buzzard-ransacked, maggot-infested corpse of Dan Girardi around. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people in the game to realize that Girardi has been a nuclear disaster site for about five seasons now, and no amount of dumb faces he makes or grunts he emits are going to change that. He should be nowhere near anyone’s top four, let alone a Cup-contenders. Even Hedman couldn’t save his immobile, dead ass and that should tell you something, And yet…

Ryan McDonagh and Stralman are still here to man the second-pairing, and while the odometer readings are catching up to McDonagh, a second-pairing assignment is still well within his range. If in between buying new silk robes and testing the viscosity of his own spunk, Jon Cooper could figure out to slide Mikhail Sergachev here instead of Stralman, he’d be doing his team a huge favor. At least until Karlsson washes up on the useless St. Petersberg shores.

The third pairing is the aforementioned Sergachev, who will be praying he no longer has to serve out whatever apprenticeship/dungeon-hood Cooper has in his own mind (Note: Cooper has an actual dungeon in his house but it is for very different things) and can be let loose. The broken-and-pie faced Braydon Coburn is somehow still here, even though it’s been unclear what he does other than break his face since 2012. Slater Koekkoek and the dumbfuck way he either spells or pronounces his last name and Jake Dotchin probably fancy their chances of cracking the lineup regularly, especially when Stralman can’t get out of a chair and Girardi and Coburn can’t figure out how to sit in one.

Forwards: The opposite end of the spectrum for the Bolts. They have two perennial MVP-candidates on their top line in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They’re perhaps the only team that can claim that, except for maybe Winnipeg. Brayden PointOndrej PalatTyler Johnson could be the best second line in the league, though the other contender might in the same division with Toronto. The bottom six is littered with solid contributors in Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, Cory Conacher, Cedric Pacquette, and now Andy Andreoff who washed out of LA can play with a team more suited to, y’know, something other than belching and farting their way up and down the ice. 1-12 it’s hard to find a more complete unit in the Eastern Conference. They don’t have the center-depth the Leafs now employ, but this center-depth was enough to pile up 113 points with spotty goaltending for half the season. And we know that Steve Yzerman is going to add something sneaky and productive at the deadline for a song, and not even a good song. Like a Styx or Springsteen song or something (suck it, Killion).

Outlook: They’ll be challenged by the Leafs for the division crown, which means they’d have to negotiate likely the Bruins and then the Leafs to get back where they were (maybe the Panthers). There is more than enough scoring here if everyone stays healthy and just gets to their career norms. A couple guys getting snake-bitten could be a problem, but could be countered by guys having spikes. The defense is a worry, until it gets buffeted by that Swedish dude with the hair. No, the one they don’t already have. The goaltending is a bigger question than anyone is asking though, but thankfully no one else in this division has a definitive answer there either. The conference final certainly is a distinct possibility, and once you’re there pretty much anything can happen. At the same time, Vasilevskiy could be what he showed for the second half and then whatever resources they were going to chuck for Karlsson might have to be used to go get a goalie. Why do I feel like Henrik Lundqvist could end up here?

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Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Everything Else

Saying goodbye to the Tampa Bay Lightning is a lot like saying goodbye to bread. Sure, they were necessary. Sure, they had flashes of being really good and noticeable. And yet it felt like everything went on around them. It’s like they were the dining room table at one of their coach’s key parties/12-hour orgies. It’s going to be used as a prop at times, it’s going to have important tools placed on it, but it’s not really where the focus is going to be.

Before the season, it was generally agreed the Lightning were the best team in the league. And really, they were. Somehow they were able to overcome the fact that Dan Girardi turned into amassed lizards like five years ago, Anton Stralman has looked like confused villain #3 in any Bond film since last season, and Braydon Coburn still has windburn from the 2010 Final. They blended kids and rookies into their already stacked lineup seamlessly, the way Jon Cooper blends peanut butter and candle wax seamlessly into his Thursday nights.

And yet pretty much from the first month on, everyone tried to find a different team to claim the favorite. We all wavered from Boston (hilarious) to Nashville to Winnipeg to Vegas to even saying fuck it the Penguins are just going to win again BECAUSE. The Lightning remained as steadfast as ever, they just couldn’t get anyone to care other than the retirees who populate the place and the extras from Magic Mike who no one told filming was over. They were the reserve prom date who had to wait for everyone else’s delusions of grandeur to pass.

As good as this team is, did it ever have any swagger? Or was that sucked up all by Cooper as he sauntered into a USF bar on a Tuesday? Did they ever look like they believed they could beat anyone and everyone? Was there ever an assuredness? It sure never seemed like it. There was no style or panache to it. It was just results. It was basically hockey Pearl Jam.

It looked like they might have captured it getting out of their division in the playoffs. But that should have been the first clue. That division. 17-5-2 against everyone who wasn’t the Bruins, which contained five teams that looked like something an untrained puppy left to its own devices for hours had gone through. Still, it should have been more.

And then the Caps showed up and said, “Hey wait a fucking minute, why is everyone out-thinking themselves here? Girardi and Coburn suck and we’re going to show everyone.” And they did. By Game 7 both looked like David Cross’ burn victim from Mr. Show. Sometimes it is as simple as it looks.

You know what might have helped? If Steven Stamkos could have managed an even-strength goal at any point in the last series, or more than one in the whole playoffs. Still, you have to say it goes nicely with his no goals in the ’15 Final at all. Quite the set. Hell of a Rick Nash impression you’ve got there, Stammer. Guess you weren’t alone. Nikita Kucherov couldn’t manage any either. So nice how you’re keeping each other company. #LinematesTilWeDie

They weren’t alone in Chateau Where The Fuck Were You? Victor Hedman spent all but one game against the Caps making love to a lawn mower, which didn’t exactly counteract the performance art for the blind that Girardi, Stralman, and Coburn were putting forth. The only d-man who looked like he wanted it was Mikhail Sergachev, and he could barely find 10 minutes per night while his coach was scrolling through Early2BedShop.com on his phone. I guess if you’re traded for Jonathan Drouin you can’t be surprised if they still treat you like Jonathan Drouin out of habit. You can’t expect a hockey coach to notice you’re a different guy.

But it’s ok, Steve Yzerman is a genius because he’s the first GM to figure out that Florida’s lack of an income tax could be like, an advantage? We’ll ignore he’s the reason that his blue line that was half-comprised by Tweedle Dumb, Tweedle Slow, and Tweedle Old was all his doing. And hey, they’re all back next year! Only J.T. Miller needs to be re-upped, just as soon as they can locate him with his other linemates after the conference final. They’re all up after that, which is good because Kucherov, Point, and Gourde are going to suck up the rest. Dance that dance, Stevie Y. Everyone will still love you. (And frankly, the fact that he could see taking the Detroit job was an utterly hopeless task alone makes him smarter than 80% of the GMs out there).

So so long, Tampa. No one has made being this good this meh since…well who knows, because all those teams are forgotten now. Much like the whole area. Miami at least has nightlife. Orlando has Disney. Jacksonville has crack. Tampa has…hang on I’ll get this. Probably not a good sign when the only movie that takes place there, the aforementioned Magic Mike, is all about how everyone wants to get the fuck out of there, huh?